Administrative Core

The Administrative Core is the operational hub of the USC Research Center for Liver Diseases (RCLD). It is responsible for integrating all components of the RCLD into a cohesive entity. The mission of fostering and facilitating collaborative liver and digestive disease-related research through provision of essential scientific cores, enrichment program, pilot/feasibility program, and thematic direction is accomplished through the important functions of the Administrative Core and its staff.

The Administrative Core has the following critical goals:

  1. Provide scientific and administrative leadership and direction through the Director, Associate, and Assistant Directors to the entire enterprise to provide a focus on liver research, enhance collaborative interactions between members, attract new members, and foster mentoring and career development of trainees and junior faculty.
  2. Organize and support an Executive Committee and External Scientific Advisory Board to join with the leaders of the Center in guiding its operation through oversight of the Scientific Cores to ensure their ability to provide vital, cost effective services, and provide oversight of the P/F project program, and the overall finances, and allocation of resources. 
  3. Provide administrative staff support for the activities of the Executive Committee, External Scientific Advisory Board, the enrichment program (Seminars/Annual symposium), and oversight and assistance to the Scientific Cores by coordinating budgets, the maintenance of records of utilization and chargebacks, communication with the membership, the NIDDK and other Digestive Disease Centers and tracking of members’ funding, publications and collaborations.  
  4. Enhance communication with and between Center members and the entire University community through email announcements and the establishment/maintenance of a Center website which describes the goals of the Center and its services, enrichment activities and access to Center Cores, and seeks feedback.

    The specific components of the Administrative Core are:

    1. Operations Committee – Dr. Kaplowitz, DeLeve, Ookhtens, Ms. Vidrio
    2. Executive Committee – Core Directors/Co-Directors, Theme coordinators and selected key members
    3. External Scientific Advisory Board – Drs. Wolkoff, Diehl, Liang, Mishra, Salvesen and Weinman
    4. Administrative staff

The Administrative Core leads the Center, recruits and supports Center members by ensuring the optimum function of the Scientific Cores, Enrichment and P/F program and by leading the organization of the scientific base of the Center into Themes and SIGs which potentiates our strengths through collaborations. The Administrative Core coordinates all record keeping of members’ funding, core usage, collaborations, keeps minutes of meetings of the Executive Committee and External Scientific Advisory Board, conducts surveys of the membership as needed, and prepares annual progress reports. The ultimate goal is to steer the Center, integrate its activities, be responsive to the ever changing needs of the members, and be proactive in negotiating with the University and its components to maximize institutional support for the Center.

Leadership and Committees

Director, RCLD: Neil Kaplowitz, MD

Dr. Kaplowitz is the founding Director of the Center and is committed to continue serving as Center Director through the next cycle with overall responsibility for the program and will serve as liaison between the Dean, Department Chairmen, other Centers and Institutes, the Executive Committee, Core Directors, External Advisory Board, the members of the RCLD and NIDDK. He will remain GI/Liver Division Chief, a responsibility which is closely related to his Center function, since the GI/Liver Division contributes more Center members than any other single component of the School. He is an established scientist with many years of experience as an investigator and academic leader. Among his accomplishments are more than 190 peer-reviewed publications, a number of important honors and awards over his career, including President, AASLD and Western Society for Clinical Investigation, NIH Merit Award, Western Gastroenterology Research Award, the William S. Middleton Award from the V.A., the Mayo Soley Award of the WSCI, the AASLD Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award and the ALF Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award. He has served as Associate Editor of Gastroenterology (1996-2001), the American Journal of Physiology (1990-1996), and Hepatology (1985-1990), former Editor, Liver and Biliary Diseases, Williams & Wilkins,(1992-1996), Associate Editor, Yamada’s Textbook, of Gastroenterology, Blackwell (2003, 2008), Co-Editor, Drug-Induced Liver Diseases , Marcel-Dekker (2002, 2006) and Elsevier (2012). He has also served on the Editorial Board of Journal of Biological Chemistry (1996-2006) and is currently a member of the Editorial Board of Hepatology and Journal of Hepatology. In addition, he has organized a number of national meetings and workshops, including an NIH conference on Oxyradicals and Liver Disease, AASLD and GRG Research Workshops and AASLD Single Topic Conferences. He served as the President of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in 1998. He will devote 20% effort to the Center, which leaves ample time for his own research program and other duties. He devotes 40% effort combined on two RO1’s, 8% effort to the Alcohol Center (Co-P.I. Project I), 8% effort as co-investigator on Dr. Liu’s U01 and 16% effort combined on Dr. Stolz two U01 projects (total 92% on grants including the Center). His clinical, teaching and administrative responsibilities as Division Chief occupy the remaining time. Dr. Kaplowitz has been the GI/Liver Division Chief since 1990. His clinical and teaching responsibilities are minimal, are entirely flexible and optional for him and the administrative activities of the Division require only a few hours per week on average because of the well developed, highly organized program with delegated responsibilities and strong administrative support. Dr. Kaplowitz currently has no plans to alter his activities as Division Chief but were the weight of these responsibilities, coupled with the load of his own research activities, ever to threaten his ability to meet his commitments to the Directorship of the RCLD, he would place the RCLD as the number one priority and the Division Chief position as a secondary priority. However, this is an entirely theoretical consideration, as Dr. Kaplowitz continues to function at his peak. His qualifications to serve as Director are based on his administrative experience and his stature as a scientist in the field of hepatology with a unique approach covering a broad range of disciplines including biochemistry, physiology, toxicology and molecular biology, and as a highly respected authority in the diagnosis, pathogenesis, and treatment of liver diseases, especially drug-induced and alcoholic liver disease. He is Brem Professor of Medicine, Garrie-Budnick Professor of Liver Disease, Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, and Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Thus, his broad range of expertise and talents are well suited to serve as a scientific leader to encourage and facilitate multidisciplinary research in all of the basic and clinical spheres of the Research Base and to promote the development of new directions as they emerge. He remains at the cutting edge with an active and productive research program. Furthermore, he has trained and fostered the career development of a number of established, federally funded scientists, including Drs. Aw (LSU Shreveport, Dept. of Physiology), DeLeve, Lu, Ookhtens, Stolz, and Yamada (formerly University of Michigan), as well as international scientists now directing established laboratories, including Fernandez-Checa (Spain), and Sugiyama, Takikawa, and Yoshida (Japan). Two of his recent postdoctoral fellows (Liu and Han) were K01 award recipients. Drs. Than, Ji, Win (all former NIH postdoctoral fellows) have research programs in the Center and he is mentoring Drs. Dara and Noureddin who plan to submit K08 and K23 applications in early 2015.

Associate Director: Laurie Deleve, MD, PhD

Laurie DeLeve, MD, PhD, was appointed as the Associate Director in July 2014. Dr. DeLeve is an internationally recognized outstanding physician scientist with a record of creativity and leadership at the local, national, and international level. She has been a Center member since 1995. Her responsibilities as Associate Director are to replace the Director in his absence to fulfill the responsibilities of leadership and to serve on the Operations and Executive Committee. She will work closely with the Director in leading the Center. She has been the Director of the Pilot/Feasibility Program since 2004. Dr. DeLeve became the Associate Chair for Scientific Affairs for the USC Department of Medicine in 2005 and was promoted to Senior Associate Chair in 2013. In that capacity she developed and runs a formal mentoring program for all junior faculty in the tenure track in the Department of Medicine and provides close interaction of the Center and the Department of Medicine leadership. Dr. DeLeve is a leading authority on liver sinusoidal endothelial cells (LSECs) and circulatory disturbance in the pathogenesis of liver disease. Her research examines the role LSECs play in hepatic fibrosis, has identified the progenitor cells of LSECs and established the essential role that LSEC progenitor cells play in liver regeneration. She has 50% effort on 2 R01s and will continue 5% effort as the Director of the very successful Pilot/Feasibility Program in addition to 5% effort as the Center’s Associate Director.

Assistant Director: Murad Ookhtens, PhD

During the current cycle (2011), we established the new position of Assistant Director, and appointed Dr. Ookhtens to this position. This was extensively discussed and ratified by the Executive Committee. The position is largely administrative and reflects Dr. Ookhtens role in assisting the Director on a daily basis in management of the Cores, developing chargebacks, working with University administration to ensure the chargebacks are in compliance with University rules, negotiating equipment purchases and service contracts for all the Cores to ensure obtaining the most competitive cost saving agreements, providing guidance to the Center administrative staff and Core directors in establishing efficient and user friendly mechanisms for monitoring budgets, usage and chargebacks. He is responsible for establishing, maintaining and improving the Center website. He also oversees the laboratory safety requirements of the Core laboratories so that we meet all University requirements. Dr. Ookhtens has a PhD in bioengineering, directs the AMI Core (5%) and has 5% effort in the role of Assistant Director. However, he actually works full-time in these Center activities; the remaining 90% of his salary is paid by the Department of Medicine (institutional support). The position of Assistant Director formalized a role that he has been playing in the operation of the Center for many years. This role is vital to the Director who meets with Dr. Ookhtens on a daily basis. The smooth and efficient function of the Center is ensured by the contributions of Dr. Ookhtens.

Executive Committee and Operations Committee:

The Executive Committee (EC) consists of the Director (Kaplowitz), Associate Director, P/F program Director (DeLeve) and Assistant Director (Ookhtens), the Core/Subcore Directors (Stiles, Liu, Ookhtens, Zandi, Hamm-Alvarez, Kanel), Enrichment Director (Stolz) and Theme Coordinators (Ou, Tsukamoto, Kaplowitz, DeLeve) and several key Center members (Polk, Stallcup, Lu). Dr. Stolz, as clinical translational investigator, also represents the clinical investigators in the Center. Dr. Polk is a former Digestive Disease Center Director (Vanderbilt) who is Chair of Pediatrics and brings a wealth of experience and is an important liaison to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and its associated Saban Research Institute, which he directs. Dr. Stallcup is Chair of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and represents the basic science department membership. Dr. Lu remains a key Center member and her leadership contributions and participation will be maintained in her role as EC member. Maria Vidrio, Center Administrator, staffs the meetings, keeps minutes, and coordinates communication with Center members. This committee oversees the use of the finances of the RCLD, makes budgetary adjustments, and evaluates the effective and appropriate use of the Core facilities and the P/F and enrichment programs. The EC meets quarterly and reviews progress of the P/F projects and Core facilities in detail twice per year. The EC approves membership in the Center, which entitles investigators to use the Core facilities, receive preferential rates and/or priority access, and receive P/F funding. The EC also plans and implements Core re-organization when deemed appropriate by survey of membership and assessment of Core usage. However, to optimize response to issues in real-time, we have an Operations Committee, which consists of the Director, Associate Director, Assistant Director and Administrator who are available on a daily basis to deal with issues and urgent decisions as they arise.

Administrative Staff:

The Center Administrator, Maria Vidrio (25%) manages the budget of the Center, provides budget reports, organizes the quarterly Executive Committee meetings, provides minutes of the meetings, organizes Advisory Board travel schedules and supervises the administrative staff and personnel issues of the technical staff of the Scientific Cores and the Administrative Core personnel. She assists Dr. Ookhtens to maintain the Center’s website. The Budget Analyst, Dolores Mendoza, supports the Scientific Cores with respect to records of usage, ordering supplies, maintaining service contracts, and handling chargebacks. Her Center-supported time is distributed as follows: 10% Cell Separation and Culture, 10% Cell and Tissue Imaging Core, 10% Liver Histology Core, 10% Analytical/Metabolic/Instrumentation and Proteomic Cores, 10% Enrichment Program, (scheduling speakers and communicating with membership by e-mail and through posted announcements), 10% P/F program, and 5% Administrative Core. The Center’s Administrator and Budget Analyst both attend the Annual Center Directors meeting and meet with NIDDK staff and stay abreast of key administrative and fiscal management issues of NIDDK. The Administrative Assistant, Graciela Bernal, is personal assistant to the Director, and devotes 25% effort to assisting the Director with Center activities, including correspondence and organizing meetings. Her effort is supported by the Department of Medicine.

External Scientific Advisory Board (ESAB):

An External Scientific Advisory Board has been in existence since the inception of the Center. The Board’s current members are Drs. Wolkoff, Diehl, Liang, Mishra, Weinman, and Salvesen. All have enthusiastically agreed to stay on for the next cycle (see biosketches). The Board is chaired by Alan Wolkoff who has served in this capacity since 1995. He is therefore very familiar with the RCLD and all the changes that have occurred over the years. As Chair, he runs the Board meeting, which reviews Pilot/Feasibility project at the conclusion of the Center’s Annual Symposium. Dr. Wolkoff is an authority in Cell Biology and provides particular guidance to our Cell and Tissue Imaging Core. He also provides an unique perspective of having been a longstanding member of the Einstein Liver Center and has recently been appointed Center Director and Chief of Gastroenterology Division. Dr. Anna Mae Diehl is Chief Gastroenterology Division at Duke University and is a distinguished physician-scientist, who provides expertise in the fields of liver regeneration, mechanisms of injury and repair, and steatohepatitis which link extremely well with Center Themes 2 (steatohepatitis/fibrosis) and Theme 4 (repair, regenerative medicine, developmental biology). Dr. T. Jake Liang is Chief of Liver Disease Branch of NIDDK. He is an authority on basic and clinical aspects of viral hepatitis and recently has expanded his expertise to iPS-derived liver cells. Thus, he provides expertise relevant to Center Theme 1 (Viral hepatitis and Liver Cancer) and to Theme 4 (repair, regenerative medicine, developmental biology). Dr. Liang is also a member of the Yale Liver Center’s Advisory Board. Lopa Mishra is Chair, Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition at UT, MD Anderson Cancer Center. She is an authority on molecular pathogenesis of primary and metastatic liver cancer. She is Associate Director of the DK-sponsored Center for Gastrointestinal Development, Infection and Injury. Her expertise in liver cancer and stem cells is highly relevant to Center Themes 1 and 4. As a result of her participation she has an active collaboration with Drs. Feldman, Machida, and Tsukamoto. Guy Salvesen PhD is the Director of the Program in Apoptosis and Cell Death Research at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute and provides particularly important expertise to Center Theme 3 (liver injury) and Theme 4 (injury and repair). Dr. Steven Weinman is Director of the Liver Center at University of Kansas. He has considerable expertise in mechanisms of liver injury from HCV and alcohol and in oxidative stress and liver cancer. Therefore his expertise is relevant to Themes 1, 2, and 3. Thus the areas of expertise of the ESAB members substantially cover and overlap the four Themes of the RCLD, which stimulates exchange of ideas and constructive criticism of the Center and the research base. The continuity of the ESAB’s members provides a consistent and familiar relationship with the Center.

The ESAB reviews P/F project applications following selection of appropriate candidates through a pre-screening process of letters of intent conducted by a subcommittee of the Executive Committee. The ESAB meets at USC annually between late February and early April, depending on coordination of their schedules. The ESAB serves as a Study Section for P/F projects (see Description of P/F Project program), provides written critiques, reviews the Scientific Cores and the functioning of the Center, and approves re-budgeting recommendations of the EC. The ESAB offers advice concerning Core services and utilization. In addition, the ESAB serves as a major component of the Enrichment Program through participation and critiquing of research-in-progress presentations of the P/F projects in the context of the Annual Symposium. One or two of the ESAB members also are invited to present a research seminar at the Symposium. The enthusiastic participation of the external group has been one of the highlights of the Center and this has been very successful in providing guidance and constructive criticism for the Center and for the scientific progress of P/F project P.I.’s and the work of many Center members.